New league overcomes growing pains

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The Blenheim Bobcats swept their way to a LKSSAA eight-man football title this year facing opponents such as Sarnia St. Clair, seen here, throughout the season. (Photo by Sue Burk/CKSN.ca)
The Blenheim Bobcats swept their way to a LKSSAA eight-man football title this year facing opponents such as Sarnia St. Clair, seen here, throughout the season. (Photo by Sue Burk/CKSN.ca)

There were skeptics. In fact, some people said the Lambton-Kent Secondary School Athletic Association (LKSSAA) would struggle mightily with red tape and logistical issues in the first season of the newly formed league. That however, hasn’t been the case.

“I feel that the first season overall was a huge success,” said LKSSAA coordinator James Clarke. “Many of the schools are very happy with the new league setup and getting an opportunity to play new schools. There have been growing pains, but we have seen more positives than negatives in this new process.”

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The new league and governing organization is an amalgamation of the former Kent and Lambton high school athletic associations, which was catalyzed by shrinking enrolment in schools, and a need to keep leagues viable for student-athletes.

By creating the new league, smaller schools have found an opportunity to compete, and field teams, which may not have been possible had the two leagues remained separate.

“To this point, we have seen many schools playing in championship games that may not have traditionally made it to that point,” explained Clarke, a long-time physical education teacher at John McGregor Secondary School in Chatham.

According to Carrie Carleton, who coached John McGregor’s senior girls’ team to a perfect 10-0 season in the new LKSSAA league, as well as LKSSAA and SWOSSAA titles and a berth in OFSAA, she believes the added competition has been good for her team and others this year.

“The biggest benefit for the basketball teams from Kent is playing a wider variety of teams,” said Carleton, whose daughter Bridget played for JMSS, and is a member of Team Canada’s National Junior basketball team.

“No one liked the idea of playing three league games against the same teams,” added Carleton of the former Kent league format. “Each year the talent level at each school will vary.  This year it was great for our senior girls to play against the strong teams from Lambton.”

Carleton believes the new LKSSAA organization, which includes teams from every school in Chatham-Kent, is good for athletes and local schools.
“I believe ultimately this union will be good for our student-athletes,” said Carleton.  “Change is hard and it will take some getting used to and it will take a few seasons to work the kinks out.  We need to look at the big picture and what is best for the league not just individual schools, as individual team situations change from year to year. “

That big picture view is what sparked the amalgamation, and now, with additional competition, and league security, high school students across Chatham-Kent and Lambton County are reaping the benefits.

As with any new venture however, it hasn’t all been roses, as LKSSAA has had a few issues, including concerns over travel costs and times, and inclement weather. According to Clarke however, many of these concerns involved overcoming tradition.

“Some of our biggest obstacles have been overcoming past traditions,” said Clarke. “Typically things have gone differently in the north and the south. Little things such as start times have posed to be bigger issues than originally thought.”

And as the league continues to move forward, with the winter season already underway, Clarke and the close to 20 schools governed by LKSSAA will continue to learn and adapt.

“Our hope is that we have addressed these problems in the fall season and will not have as many in the winter.  Bigger picture goal is to have a well oiled machine for next year.”

Whether LKSSAA is error free next year or not, one thing is for sure, high school sports in Kent and Lambton are now here to stay, and have the chance to grow, and provide new opportunities for student-athletes.

The JMSS Panthers girls’ basketball team won the LKSSAA crown this season, as well as several tournaments, including the Fanshawe College Invitational seen here. (Contributed image)
The JMSS Panthers girls’ basketball team won the LKSSAA crown this season, as well as several tournaments, including the Fanshawe College Invitational seen here. (Contributed image)
The Chatham-Kent Secondary School Golden Hawks were one of the first local teams to win a LKSSAA title this year, beating Sarnia St. Patrick's in the semis, en route to an all-Kent final against UCC. (Photo by Peggy Johnson/CKSN.ca)
The Chatham-Kent Secondary School Golden Hawks were one of the first local teams to win a LKSSAA title this year, beating Sarnia St. Patrick’s in the semis, en route to an all-Kent final against UCC. (Photo by Peggy Johnson/CKSN.ca)

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